Saturday, December 27, 2008

Two Quinean things

In my browsing of Amazon, I came across something kind of exciting. There are two new collections of Quine's work coming, edited by Dagfinn Follesdal and Douglas Quine. They are Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionalist and Other Essays and Quine in Dialogue. The former appears to be split between previously uncollected essays, previously unpublished essays, and more recent essays. The latter appears to consist of a lot of lighter pieces, reviews, and interviews. Amazon doesn't seem to have the tables of contents available yet, but they are available at the publisher's page, here and here. Both look promising for those that are interested in Quine. I'm curious to read Quine's review of Lakatos in the latter volume. It could be wildly disappointing, but it would be nice to see Quine's reaction a philosophy of math that is so at odds with his own. [Edit: In the comments, Douglas Quine points out that more detailed information for the new volumes, as well as information on other centennial events, are up on the W.V. Quine website.]

The other Quinean thing is a question. Is there anywhere in Quine's writings where he discusses the role of statistics and probability in modern science? It seemed like there could be something there that could be used as the beginning of an objection to Quine's fairly tidy picture of scientific inquiry. (This thought is sort of half-baked at this point.) Over the holidays I couldn't think of anywhere Quine talked about how it fit into his epistemological views. It seemed odd that Quine didn't ever discuss it, given the importance of statistics in science, so I'm fairly sure I'm forgetting or overlooking something. There might be something in From Stimulus to Science or Pursuit of Truth, but I won't have access to those for a few days yet. [Edit: In the comments Greg points out that Sober presented a sketch of a criticism along the lines above in his paper "Quine's Two Dogmas," available for download on his papers page.]

3 comments:

Daniel Lindquist said...

"Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionalist" has a lot of short essays, which is nice. Reading five or six Quine essays in one sitting feels like I've done something productive; nevermind that they altogether ran about eight pages. It also has a nice cover, it looks snazzy sitting out.

"Pursuit of Truth" has four index entries for "probability". One is just pointing to an earlier reference; one is a remark that quantum mechanics issues in probabilistic predictions; one (p.95) seems to just be a misprint, because I see nothing on that page (or the preceding or following pages) about probability.

So, basically there's one passage, on page 13: "It is clearly true, moreover, that one continually reasons not only in refutation of hypotheses but in support of them. This, however, is a matter of arguing logically or probabilistically from other beliefs already held. It is where the technology of probability and mathematical statistics is brought to bear." So, Quine at least recognizes that they're important, but doesn't seem to think he has anything interesting to say about them (at least not in the context of refutation of scientific theories).

On p.20, Quine points back to this section (which is only a page and a half long -- ps.12-13): "Moreover, naturalized epistemology on its normative side is occupied with heuristics generally -- with the whole strategy of rational conjectures in the framing of scientific hypotheses. In the present pages I have been treating of the testing of a theory after it has been thought up, this being where the truth conditions and empirical content lie, so I have passed over the thinking up, which is where the normative considerations come in. Ullian and I did go into it somewhat in The Web of Belief, listing five virtues to seek in a hypothesis: conservatism, generality, simplicity, refutability, and modesty. Further counsel is available anecdotally in the history of hard science. In a more technical vein, normative naturalized epistemology tangles with margin of error, random deviation, and whatever else goes into the applied mathematics of stastics (see ss5)."

The fact that The Web of Belief is the only Quinean text cited here makes me suspect that he doesn't have much to offer from the "more technical vein" of normative naturalized epistemology; The Web of Belief is written for undergraduates (if not sharp high-schoolers). For what it's worth, Quine discusses probability on ps.104-107 of that work.

I suspect Quine just doesn't think there's much interesting to say about how statistics are used in the hard sciences, at least as far as philosophy of science goes. Certainly the stuff in "Pursuit of Truth" and "The Web of Belief" seems to imply he doesn't foresee anything which would challenge his general views coming from those quarters. So, you might not be forgetting anything.

Also, be sure to report back on the Lakotos review, either way. I wish the HUP page gave page numbers with the ToC; I'm curious how long the "Exchange Between Davidson and Quine" runs.

Greg said...

re: your half-baked criticism -- I'm pretty sure Elliott Sober spells out a critique of this kind in his Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society paper on Quine from around 2000. I don't recall how much detail he goes into there.

Douglas said...

Your wish has been granted. I've entered the page numbers for all the chapters in Confessions and Quine in Dialogue at the WV Quine website. The site also lists all the centennial year events.

Douglas B. Quine, Ph.D.